Editor’s Note: How to Be Single is currently out in wide release.
It’s still early in the year, but How to Be Single is already the frontrunner for the year’s most misleading advertising campaign. Contrary to the trailers and TV spots, this isn’t merely a raucous and crude romp through the streets of New York led. There are certainly elements of that here, but the film seems to be aiming for something higher. While it doesn’t always hit its target, the accomplishments of How to Be Single are just as interesting as its misfires.
How to Be Single feels like a film trying actively trying to defy the trappings of the romantic comedy genre. In many instances, its attempts work. In others, it doesn’t. The direction by Christian Ditter is steadily paced, sometime frustratingly so. Sometimes the film feels aimless, but it’s because Ditter seems genuinely interested in following his character rather than nailing the next punchline. As good as Ditter’s intentions are, the script doesn’t always provide the depth needed for that kind of film. Still, there’s a lot to chew on here.
Dakota Johnson leads the film as Alice, one of the four characters in the film trying to find themselves. Her method of pursuing that notion of self involves breaking up with her boyfriend of four years and moving to New York so she can learn how to “be alone” and live a life with no regrets. As Alice, Johnson proves once again that she is an extremely talented actress with a dynamite screen presence who can really knock it out of the park when given even a half-decent script (friendly reminder that she’s a standout in the criminally underrated Black Mass). She moves into an apartment in the city and gets a job at some law firm, where she meets Rebel Wilson’s Robin.
For too much of her career, Rebel Wilson has been saddled with playing the same character. How to Be Single has her do the same schtick here that we’ve seen in both Pitch Perfect movies, but then gives her an effective emotional left turn in the film’s third act. Wilson has some really hilarious moments sprinkled throughout the film, but hopefully Hollywood learns from her dramatic moments here.
Perhaps the most interesting character in the film belongs to Leslie Mann as Amy’s sister, Meg. Meg is a workaholic nurse with no time for a relationship. Her age difference is a bit hard to swallow at first, but the fact that it’s never addressed at all turns out to be rather refreshing. Early in the film, Meg finds the perfect sperm donor and decides to have a child. There’s a movie where Meg would raise a child on her own and stay true to her vision of her as a single parent. This isn’t that movie. Instead, How to Be Single gives Meg a love interest wether she likes it or not. Thankfully, that love interest is played by the incredibly likable Jake Lacy. Though it would have been to see a studio movie tackle a character like Meg and see it to fruition, the comedy and energy that the two bring to the film is worth settling for.
As the fourth character looking for love, Allison Brie plays a character that feels tertiary and below her. She does get some nice moments earlier on in the film, but by the time the film comes to a close the writers have punished her with a character even more one-dimensional than she is. For a film trying to shatter the cliches of its genre, Allison Brie’s Lucy is a character that goes directly against the mission statement of How to Be Single.
To the film’s credit, none of the plot threads in the film went where I assumed they would. How to Be Single doesn’t always supersede the romantic comedy genre, but most of the instances where it doesn’t involve characters and storylines worth investing in. Valentine’s Day needs more movies like this. And the movies need more of Jake Lacy.
How to Be Single feels like a film trying actively trying to defy the trappings of the romantic comedy genre. In many instances, its attempts work. In others, it doesn’t. While it doesn’t always hit its target, the accomplishments of How to Be Single are just as interesting as its misfires.